Commentary

Here We Go Again

Today’s date creeps up every year, kidnaps my subconscious, and dumps it unmercifully back to that day.

My memories are as clear as the sky that dreadful morning.

I had flown in from San Francisco the prior weekend and, with my company’s CEO, Mark, watched Pete Sampras lose the U.S. Open finals to Lleyton Hewitt from the second row of Arthur Ashe stadium.  I was staying at a furnished apartment in New York City that Snowball.com rented to make my frequent trips East more efficient.  Life was good.

The air that Tuesday on my walk to our Park Avenue office was crisp. I was meeting Randy at 8:30 a.m.  He and I had worked together in the past, and now he was interviewing for a sales position.  We were talking about old times and new skills in the back conference room when we heard that a small commuter jet had flown into one of the Twin Towers.  We acknowledged how bad that sounded, but then got back to the business at hand.

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What I remember next are vivid clips cached permanently in my memory. 

I can still hear Jason, the head of our client service team, blurting out, “Oh my God, another plane hit the other tower” -- which caused Randy and me to run out to the main room to watch the video on the office television. 

I can still feel the chilling fear of calling my sister-in-law to see how my twin brother (working downtown near Wall Street) was, while holding my breath until I could process he was OK and on his way home via the ferry.

I remember listening to a voice mail from my girlfriend, Jennifer, saying she’d gotten out of the South Tower and was huddling in the basement of a building nearby with some coworkers. 

I distinctly remember thinking, “We are in midtown and this is happening downtown” -- and then realizing the Empire State Building was a few blocks away. Abruptly, I sent everyone home.

I remember the eerie walk up Third Avenue with hoards of others, shuffling steadily and in unison.  I remember how quiet it was and how everyone’s heads drooped down as the weight of the event became too much to shoulder. 

I remember how each bar we passed had televisions on, and every few blocks people stopped and poked their heavy heads in to see what we couldn’t believe.

In the immediate days and nights that followed, I went out to eat on the Upper East Side.  Restaurants were filled with tables of people talking softly next to tables where people sat in complete silence, their eyes reddened and the food on their plates untouched. 

I remember the call from my mom telling me Alan, our next-door neighbor when I was growing up, had died that day, working on the 104th floor of the World Trade Center.

I remember being too afraid to fly home to San Francisco -- and how surreal it felt to return to the New York office that following Monday.

I remember the bizarre conference call we had with our company president, Rick. He reminded us we had a quarterly revenue number we needed to hit. He wanted to hear from the New York sales team about opportunities that might close before the quarter ended. 

I will never forget the silence his words were met with. I remember realizing, at that exact moment, how different it was being in New York City versus watching New York City on TV.

What I witnessed the next few days was something I will never forget.

New Yorkers held doors for one another and said thank you with their words and their hearts.  New Yorkers made space for one another on the subway.  People peered into the eyes of their brothers and sisters on the streets of New York City as if to reassure them, "We will get through this."

I remember when we finally did start talking to clients, the warmth and compassion in those conversations was unlike the dialogue we’d had before. It was raw, it was real, and it was human.

I think our online ad world has become so “programmatic,” we no longer recognize human beings are on the other side of the send buttons we use to communicate with one another. Our business communication has become curt and downright hostile at times, and we have no problem not responding at all.

I wish we could collect the empathy 9/11 left behind and pour it back into our industry.  I wish we would treat one another with the heartfelt respect New Yorkers treated one another with in the aftermath of this infamous date, instead of working through one another as a means to an end as we do now. 

I wish Alan were alive, and that his sisters, Debbie, Marci and Marla, whom I think about every day, could delete the suffering they have endured these past 13 years.

I am sure all of you reading have similar feelings about today’s date, and suffered as much or more than I did. Feel free to share those feelings below.  I will be reading every word you write, and I thank you for taking the time to read mine.

4 comments about "Here We Go Again".
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  1. Andy Kowl from ePublishing, September 11, 2014 at 1:55 p.m.

    Thanks for giving me a moment to reflect on that day we wish we could forget. The sales call reaction you related said it all. The perfunctory TV mentions hadn't done it. I'm a native New Yorker, raised in Manhattan, and was at a meeting in Baltimore that terrible day. Remember driving home in Maryland, crying alone in the car. A little now, too, as I type. Lost my friend Dave at Cantor Fitzgerald. My nephew Brian was running late to his 80th floor job that morning due to a Michael Jackson concert at the Garden the night before, so MJ saved his life in a way.

    Heard on TV during lunch about college kids today who cannot explain what happened that day and have absolutely no idea what Dec. 7th signifies. I guess it is up to all of us to keep important American memories alive.

  2. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, September 11, 2014 at 2:13 p.m.

    Hi Andy. Thanks for sharing -- your friend Dave died with Alan at Cantor and may they both rest in peace -- and as a self proclaimed "World's Greatest Uncle" who just got married Saturday where all three of my nephews were my "best men" I am grateful that you didn't lose yours. Be well.

    Ari

  3. Kevin Wilk from Experian, September 14, 2014 at 8:21 a.m.

    Thanks for the words Ari. it was occurring to me that some of the youngest people in our industry may only have vague recollections of the events happening live today. That is to say, half the room in every agency I present to was not driving yet, or even in high school. While that workday is seared in my mind.

    Working in San Francisco, and taking BART over in the morning before the city essentially evacuated. I had watched the planes hit, and realized my computer was in my SF office, so had to head over there. Grabbing it and coming back was surreal. EVERYONE was leaving the city on any train they could get on. Trains were packed, but unlike the usual commute "silence" of people, everyone was talking and spreading every rumor availaible: "Planes are heading to SF", planes are being shot down", etc. In sales, it was hard to fathom how anybody could even pick up a phone or ask for business. It took a week to feel comfortable in doing that again. Every conversation first inquired if they knew anyone in NY, or where they were when "it" happened? People I worked with had to rent cars from 1000's of miles away to get back home, not knowing when planes would be flying again. Almost a generation ago, and most front line industry people now don't have that in their collective minds anymore. All that changed in less than a generation.

    The week before I had been reading a book that was all too prescient: "Day of Infamy", about Pearl Harbor Day. And on 9/11/2001 I realized today was our generation's Day of Infamy. I hope the new workers coming into the industry realize that 9/11 on every year is not just another work day. It never will be to any of us who lived through it at work.

  4. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, September 14, 2014 at 7:31 p.m.

    Wow Kevin did you just paint a clear picture of what it was like to be in San Francisco that day -- thank you for sharing -- and although they felt like rumors that day in SF it shows how the fear created in the eastern time zone was just as powerful in the West. Thanks so much for digging deep and sharing these thoughts -- they are chilling.

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